Sun Protection from Head to Toe

Sun Protection

Just how sunny is it in Tucson? According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, our fair city gets 85% of the maximum possible sunshine in a given year. That basically puts us in a three-way tie with Phoenix and Vegas for the sunniest major city in the country.

In other words? Really sunny.

And that means proper sun protection is really important, whether you’re planning on going for a hike, playing some golf, enjoying an outdoor festival, or just spending a bit of time in the sun.

It really doesn’t take much exposure for damage to set in. In fact, a typical person can only stay in the sun for no more than 20 minutes before they start to burn.

And that’s the average. If you happen to be extremely fair skinned, you might have 10 minutes or less.

Beyond even that, it’s not just your skin you need to be worried about. Ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun can damage your eyesight, too—even if you’re not staring directly at it. Extended UV exposure is known to contribute to cataracts, macular degeneration, and other eye conditions that cause deterioration in vision.

The lesson? If you’re going out, protect yourself.

Here’s how.

Clothing

Did you know that not all clothing is equally good at blocking the sun’s ultraviolet rays?

While a pair of denim jeans is basically the world’s best sunblock (effectively zero UV rays are getting through that), a loose-weave plain white T-shirt might offer barely any protection at all. You might as well be topless—at least from your skin’s perspective.

Now, we know that on a hot day in Tucson, you’re probably going to be covering up as little as you can get away with and letting your sunscreen do most of the work—more on that in the next section. But at the very least, you’re going to want the clothes you are wearing to block the sun and not let it right through!

Some rules of thumb:

The tighter-knit the weave of the fabric, the greater the sun protection. Think of it this way: If you hold fabric up to your eyes and can see through it, guess what—light is getting through, which means those UV rays are getting through, too. Any woven fabric is going to have tiny gaps between the fibers; the bigger those gaps, the more sunlight can get in.

The darker the material, the greater the sun protection. Many of the dyes used in clothing soak up UV rays quite well. In general, darker colors are better than lighter ones, and more vivid colors (for example, a bright red or yellow) do better than paler shades.

Many modern garments (particularly athletic and outdoor wear) now list their UPF (ultraviolet protection factor) on tags or labels, so you know exactly what you’re getting. UPF is not the same as SPF, so don’t confuse the two.

Without getting into too many details, what you really need to know is that anything above UPF 30 is pretty good and above UPF 50 (98% of UV blocked) is very good.

But remember as well that when fabric is wet or stretched, it can lose a significant percentage of its ability to block the sun—perhaps by as much as half.

Oh, one other quick clothing-related tip: wear a hat, preferably one with a wide brim. It’ll help protect your scalp, ears, and eyes from extra sun exposure.

Sunscreen

Sunscreen

Sunscreen is a daily fact of life for every Tucson resident—or at least it should be. Even if you’re only outside long enough to get to your car, the sun can still hammer your exposed left arm during your commute.

And even on one of those rare cloudy days, almost 80 percent of the sun’s UV rays are still making it through the cover and reaching your skin anyway.

Cover all exposed areas of skin at least 15 minutes (and ideally 30) before you go outside—don’t wait until you’re almost out the door. Skin should be dry when you apply. Most sunscreens need to be reapplied every two hours, or immediately after swimming (or just sweating profusely), but do check the label to be sure.

(While you’re there, check to make sure your bottle of sunscreen hasn’t expired, either.)

That’s all well and good, but what sunscreen should you use? Here are our recommended minimum guidelines (per the American Academy of Dermatology):

  • SPF of at least 30. More is better. But remember that the SPF only determines the percentage of sun that gets blocked, not the duration of the effect. SPF 50 will work better than SPF 30, but either way you’ll still need to reapply every two hours.
  • Broad-spectrum protection. That means the sunscreen is effective against UV-A and UV-B radiation, which means it not only keeps you from burning, but also helps prevent skin cancer.
  • Water resistance. Remember, water resistance doesn’t just protect you when you decide to take a dip in the pool. It also protects you from your own perspiration. Check the label to see how long the resistance lasts.

As for the type of sunscreen, that’s really up to you—so long as you use enough of the product. Sprays work fine, but some people have a tendency to use less than they really need. Creams are a good all-purpose choice, though you may wish to use gels for hairy areas, or sticks for small areas around the eyes. We’d also recommend a sun-protecting lip balm—lips can burn, too!

Finally, since Head to Toe does specialize in foot care, one more reminder: Don’t forget your feet! Many people get lazy about applying sunscreen to the tops of feet, but they burn just as easily as anywhere else. And since many people don’t check their feet as often as they should, it might take longer to notice the signs of skin cancer there.

Eye Protection

When the sunlight is bright, reach for those sunglasses. The right pair can make a huge difference—not only for your personal comfort level, but also for the long-term health of your vision. If you want to keep sharp and healthy eyes as long as possible, you want to limit the amount of UV radiation they take in.

Did you catch that, though? We didn’t say any old pair of sunglasses. We said the right pair.

The most important thing to look for is lenses that offer at least 99% percent (and ideally 100%) UV protection, for both UV-A and UV-B. We can’t stress this enough. If your sunglasses do not meet this threshold, you need a new pair. If you don’t know if your glasses meet this threshold or not, don’t risk it.

Sunglasses that offer substandard UV protection can actually be worse for your eyes then going without. Because they still darken the light, your pupils still dilate. And dilated pupils take in a lot more UV rays.

Other points to consider?

  • Bigger is better. And not only because they’re fashionable! Oversized and wraparound shades protect your eyes better from UV rays getting into the side from the side, above, or below. Plus, they offer better protection for the sensitive skin surrounding the eyes.
  • Polarized lenses. No, polarized lenses aren’t any better at blocking UV rays than non-polarized lenses. The color and overall darkness of the lenses don’t affect UV ray penetration either. However, choosing a pair of polarized lenses or lenses of certain colors does help with glare and contrast, which will reduce eye strain and keep your eyes from tiring out.

Summer Protection

Have Fun in the Sun!

We say all this not to discourage you from enjoying the dry heat and sunny weather. Enjoying and exploring the great outdoors all year long is one of the absolute best things about Tucson. It’s a big reason we love this town.

Just make sure you protect yourself! It won’t take that long—just a couple of minutes here and there—and if you do it consistently you can enjoy the best of both worlds; great fun in the sun, and healthy skin and eyes for the long haul!

Questions? Need to set up an appointment with one of our specialists? Give us a call at (520) 545-0202 or contact us today.

Dr. Alan Shih
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Tucson Podiatrist Dr. Shih will take care of your foot, ankle, & leg pain, call Head to Toe Healthcare today.
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